A US Army dog handler has been demoted and sentenced to 90 days of hard labour for using his dog to assault a prisoner at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
Sergeamt Santos Cardona, 32, of Fullerton, California, the 11th US soldier convicted for abusing Abu Ghraib detainees, also will have to forfeit $7,200 in pay, an Army spokeswoman said on Friday. He will not be confined during the term of hard labour but will be demoted to specialist.
A US military court-martial panel of four officers and three enlisted personnel convicted Cardona on Thursday of two counts that could have led to three and a half years in prison - failing to handle his dog properly and using the unmuzzled Belgian shepherd to threaten a detainee with a force "likely to produce death or grievous bodily harm".
He was cleared on seven other counts, including accusations of letting his dog bite a prisoner and of conspiring with another dog handler to frighten inmates into defecating and urinating on themselves.
Cardona's defence attorneys had sought to portray him as a victim of unclear orders and an ambiguous chain of command that silently condoned using dogs to terrorise Iraqi prisoners in hopes of getting more intelligence out of them.
Cardona's case arose after the 2004 release of photographs of Army personnel at Abu Ghraib letting snarling dogs intimidate prisoners and forcing the inmates into humiliating poses.
Larry Cox, the executive director of Amnesty International USA, said Cardona's acquittal on the most serious charge and relatively light sentence were "yet another example of a punishment that belittles the seriousness of the crime".
"In addition, we are disturbed by the fact that commanding officers have been granted immunity to testify rather than held accountable for crimes committed under their watch," he said.